Learning to Garden

modern anatomy

My tomatoes are growing. This is climactic because I have never been a gardener. As a child I avoided dirt, and the first time I planted a flower I was more distracted by the black under my nails than the task at hand. Back when I lived in a city it wasn’t even a choice. People didn’t ask me what herbs and vegetables I was planting for spring, and no one offered advice on pruning my hydrangeas. And I was ok with that. I was ok with not having a yard filled with green grass. I loved my little apartment like a home. And then two things happened. I left the city and I got pregnant, almost at the same time actually. And suddenly I was expected to grow things; to put time and effort into cultivating something. I had never put time or effort into anything but myself before that, and even then, some days there was minimal effort.

Immediately after giving birth to him, I tried to recall what it had actually felt like. I would close my eyes and rely on my sense memory. Was it really so painful I screamed for a C-section even when I had been so vehemently against one? The human brain is an amazing thing. I tried to remember the actual pains of contractions. Someone told me before I gave birth that it was like the worst period cramps you could ever imagine. But it was so much more painful even than that. It was a knife, cutting cleanly through my stomach, until I felt it within every inch of my body; the opposite of an orgasm. The knife came every ten minutes . . . every five minutes . . . two minutes . . . every thirty seconds. I was sick, violently ill and throwing up every few minutes. My fluids were extremely low; I was put on an IV, had an epidural, had Pitocin. It took a whole room of assistants and my midwife to bring this baby into the world. A whole room, like a whole village. And he came, and I loved, and didn’t sleep, and cultivated. Or tried to at least.

One of the most important things about gardening is remembering to water the plants. This should be an easy one, but if you are too busy or too selfish, it’s not. For a year of our marriage our grass was brown. Who knew this was a big deal? There was always some issue with the sprinkler system. One head was broken, then another. We gave up communicating about it; it became a stick in the wheels of our marriage. I would say the second most important thing about gardening is knowing when you’ve made a mistake and have to pull up the roots and start over.

We decided to leave Seattle in the fall. It was chilly and sprinkling rain. We didn’t own a car, but I was determined to live the city lifestyle I missed about Chicago. And so we piled the baby and most of his belongings into the stroller and began to trudge up Queen Anne hill. We walked, and sweated, even in the misty fall rain. No one tells you how tall those hills are, practically vertical. As we alternated pushing the stroller, we fought. We argued about who kept hitting the bump in the road and causing Charley to screech in alarm. We argued about why we couldn’t afford a car, and whose fault that was. We dissected every aspect of our life and our marriage on the way up that hill, and when we reached the top, we realized we didn’t like any of it. It was a long way down, and a long way back to Florida, 3, 206 miles to be exact. But we knew when to leave and start over.

I thought of that the first time I planted basil and it died. I had been too busy with everything else to water it, and the leaves were brown and curling. But, determined to be the gardener wife, I let it sit on the windowsill. Leaving it there didn’t mean it got any better. I pulled up its roots too.

Each spring I get a little better. Last year I planted lantana. I dug and I dug, they flourished, but only for a season, for I had bought the wrong variety. I looked around the yard and everything else was dead too. That was the beginning of the year of brown grass. But now, we are better. We don’t argue about the grass, or who chose to move to Seattle. We let it all go. And slowly our garden is growing, thriving. After such a struggle, I feel like Charley when I see the juicy red tomatoes sprouting---wonder and amazement. It wasn’t always that easy for me.